Statement of Purpose
James Herod, September 1969
[Prefatory Note, April 2007: This is a draft statement of purpose which I submitted to the September 1969 General Assembly of the Committee of Returned Volunteers. Parts of this draft, much revised and shortened, were incorporated into the document that was finally adopted by the organization as its Statement of Purpose.]
As citizens of the United States we grew up believing that American society was basically democratic and just and that our government was seeking to promote and defend freedom and well-being of people throughout the world. This view of our nation and our position in the world has been totally shattered by our experiences during the past decade and the reflection and study that these experiences provoked.
Only a few short years ago the feelings and thoughts we had about this country were still characterized by a basic trust in the United States government. This trust was nowhere more evident than in our response to the actions of the United States government overseas. Thousands of us volunteered to live and work in countries of Asia, Africa, and Latin America in hopes of helping others to develop. We endeavored to increase American aid to less fortunate peoples. In the various countries where we worked we encountered United States policies with which we disagreed, to be sure, but because of our confidence in the legitimacy of the institutions and the intentions underlying these policies we simply saw them as somewhat puzzling mistakes by those who had made them. Whenever we could we attempted to correct such mistakes by communicating our experiences and views to those responsible for the policies in question, feeling certain that corrections would indeed be implemented. No matter how mismanaged or inadequate these programs were, however, we felt that programs like the Peace Corps and A.I.D. were still badly needed contributions to the welfare of our friends overseas. In short, while we felt dismayed that our country was not living up to its responsibilities as a leading nation or using its enormous potential to help less fortunate nations, we attributed these shortcomings to poor leadership, ill-conceived policies, or simply to sheer apathy, and we remained hopeful that these things could be corrected.
It is now clear that we were mistaken. This former `world view' of ours lies in a complete shambles, buried beneath the ashes of the Vietnamese and a dozen other peoples the world over. The glaring discrepancy between the stated aims of United States programs and the actual effect of those programs as we have seen them in operation has forced us to reject this traditional and widely accepted interpretation of the activities of the government overseas. It does not describe the realities of our world. The evidence against it is overwhelming, irrefutable, and divesting. We have had to face the unpleasant truth that the United States government, far from being the chief defender of weak and oppressed peoples in far corners of the earth, is in fact a powerful opponent of freedom, justice, and well-being in nearly every country in the world, including our own. Consistently, in case after case, the very groups that we feel are the strongest advocates of freedom, justice, and well-being are seen by the United States government as the main threats to these ideals. We are convinced that the United States is fighting on the wrong side of most major struggles for social advancement going on in the world today. This is the meaning of the direct military intervention of the United States in Korea, Vietnam, and the Dominican Republic, of its subversive activities in Iran, Guatemala, and the Congo, and of its alliances with dictatorial elites in South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and around the world. These cases demonstrate beyond any doubt that the United States does not in fact respect the right of self-determination of other nations and that it does not work for their social and economic development.
Why is the United States an opponent of social advancement in countries throughout the world? This question can be answered by understanding the structure of American society. Clues to the behavior of the government abroad can be found in the nature of our society here at home. The events of the past decade have taught us two salient facts about this country: (1) the United States is not a democratic society; (2) the economic institutions of the United States are unjust; they do not serve the basic interests of the American people. Rather, American society is characterized by fundamental and permanent inequality of wealth and power. Although the overall wealth of the American people has increased consistently, the relative distribution of that wealth has remained constant throughout the twentieth century, with the upper groups getting a disproportionate share. This unjust distribution of the nation's wealth is maintained and perpetuated because the upper groups in the society have been able to exercise throughout American history a disproportionate influence on writing the laws and building the institutions of the country. Consequently, the structure of the entire society is biased in their favor to facilitate the perpetuation of their privileges. This fundamental inequality permeates all our major institutions – the economy, the government, education, and social services. Inequality in the United States is maintained by those who benefit from it at the expense of the basic needs of the American people, at the expense of the rational and intelligent use of our resources, and at the expense of life itself. This is an intolerable situation.
Recognizing that the United States is undemocratic and that its economic institutions are basically unjust is absolutely essential for understanding why the government opposes freedom and development abroad. It is not unreasonable to question whether the United States can export democracy and economic justice if American society itself is not democratic or economically just. If the United States has not been able to build a humane and good society within its own borders, how can it foster these things abroad? Obviously, it cannot and it does not. Rather, the same small classes of people who seek to perpetuate inequality of power and wealth here at home – biased in their favor of course – pursue these same objectives abroad. These people have deep historical foundations beginning with the establishment of the first world-wide economy dominated by the white upper classes of Europe in the period between 1450 and 1650. Because of their superiority in weapons and technology the European upper classes were able to create and maintain for several hundred years an international economic system designed to benefit primarily themselves. The American upper classes are the direct heirs of that system and are today its chief beneficiaries and defenders. They create and perpetuate, together with their allies in other countries, the current international division between the rich and the poor. Poverty in our present day world is the direct result of their activities. This is an equally intolerable situation.
We do not intend to sit idly by while basic principles of common human decency are flagrantly violated all over the world by groups of our own countrymen. We are prepared to take action to correct this state of affairs. More concretely, we will struggle:
* to establish a democratic society in this country,
* to gain control of our own economic resources, and
* to bring to an end the exploitation of other nations by the United States.
Moreover, we are committed to work for the establishment of a new society in the United States and in the world:
* which puts an end to the exploitation of man by man,
* which recognizes the right of all people everywhere to political, economic, and cultural autonomy, and
* which recognizes that the resources of this planet belong to all human beings, and which consciously promotes the equitable and intelligent use of those resources.
These are our first principles, our Statement of Purpose. We entertain no illusions however that these objectives can be easily obtained. Those people who benefit from the present pervasive inequalities will not willingly relinquish their privileges. They will not give up their undeserved positions without a struggle. This knowledge has been gained at a cost of millions of lives. The struggles for liberation taking place today in several countries, as well as those within the United States, are essential therefore to the establishment of a new society based on equality of wealth and power. The first task is to defeat those who presently control the country and control the world. We support all struggles everywhere that take us a step closer to this objective.